Thursday, June 23, 2016

Akzo Nobel Pulls the Plug - The Jefferson at Saw Mill has Left the Building Site

Something was wrong from the beginning. 

Back in 1994, the Town of Greenburgh,  at the urging of Supervisor Paul Feiner, enacted a law requiring all bicycle riders in the Town to wear a helmet. Yet, in 2016, on The Jefferson at Saw Mill’s website, a stock photo of two millennial bike riders without helmets was displayed as they ostensibly planned their ride along the adjacent South County Trail bike path. The posted rules on the South County Trail also require all users to wear a helmet.

This disconnect hinted at one of the reasons Texas based Jefferson developer JPI is gone - their failure to know the local terrain. The failure experienced by JPI is no different from that of not knowing your customer as The GAP found out when they tried to change their longstanding logo (Gap blunders) or when Netflix tried to split itself  Quickster dies quickly.

In the “what were they thinking” department, by proposing a mega-development like nothing ever seen in our area, JPI caused an equal and opposite unprecedented counter-reaction including multiple hearings on the scoping document for the draft environmental impact statement. It seems the schools in Texas (where the fossil record is called "sketchy") do not teach the fact of life (those are not taught either) that actions lead to reactions.

The “word on the  Internet Highway” (the successor to the “word on the street” (which is the successor to “a little birdie told me”))  is that JPI essentially gave up once they realized the ditch they had stumbled into,  to wit, the large number of environmental matters they needed to study to comply with the terms of the scoping document. This is where the rubber meets the road and JPI was simply outgunned by the home team. 

Things continued to go wrong for the developer. Out of nowhere, The Lofts on 9A were approved on top of The Water Wheel and the Toll Brother’s Preserve projects - all in the Ardsley School District. The claim that millennials would live at The Jefferson was strongly disputed and was even unsupported by JPI's own "experts." An assertion that The Jefferson was a transit oriented development was shown to be  unabashed nonsense.  After all, New York is where people often say “if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.” The developer's involvement with a true transit oriented development in Farmingdale proved that what JPI was saying with respect to the Jefferson was propaganda. Residents were angry that JPI was seeking to exploit the South County Trail for its own purposes while making no effort to enhance it.

No one was fooled. No one drank their Texas Kool-Aid.  Not one person spoke up in favor of The Jefferson at any public meeting.  Not one letter of support was written to the local newspapers. Instead, lawns in Ardsley and the Rivertowns were covered with brightly covered signs saying "NO 2 the Jefferson!" Executives at Akzo Nobel started receiving FedEx envelopers decrying the project and asking why a former good corporate neighbor was saddling Ardsley with this monstrosity. 

It is dangerous to believe in your own press releases.  Undoubtedly JPI was accustomed to receiving accolades from fawning politicians over many years that they fell victim to the problem of never facing rough seas – it makes for a poor sailor. 

Things continued to slide for JPI.  Bernie Sanders and  Donald Trump, imperfect as they are, nevertheless came out of nowhere and exposed the status quo as serving themselves and their special interests and not the public interest. Sanders raised millions from small contributors without political action committees.  Trump harnessed free media attention and Twitter to decimate the Establishment‘s candidates. They both gave voices to those who felt shut out of the machinery of political decision making and brought in millions of new voters.  This undoubtedly gave heart to the core of volunteers and local officials in Village Government and on the Ardsley School Board to resist the claims of local cynics who were saying don’t bother – the moneyed interests will prevail. JPI is the largest multi-family developer in the country - they will get what they want with minimal compromise.  However, as Hillary Clinton said, "it takes a village."

Other problems nibbled at JPI – critical blog posts exposing their Fair Housing Settlement with the Justice Department, online petitions, and Facebook and YouTube posts showing the growing traffic problems near Lawrence Street even before Rivertowns Square was completed. Even the “A Better Greenburgh” blog, a nominal backer of something (albeit smaller) being built at the site, reversed course and came out against the project. Serious questions were raised with Albany legislators about the brownfields cleanup law and why it was designed to subsidize luxury development in an affluent area without creating real jobs. Community members cautioned against effectively removing industrial land from the mix of possible future uses. The Town's draft "Comprehensive Plan" came in for close scrutiny and revealed the "you can drive a mack truck through it" ambiguous (and somewhat pro-developer) language the plan contained when it came to the supportive areas of the South Research and Development Cluster. 

To paraphrase Bob Dylan’s lyric from “Ballad of  A Thin Man” something was happening here but JPI did not know what it was.  Soon the motto “Don’t Mess with Texas” changed to “Don’t Mess with a Southern Westchester suburban activist with a smart phone and a kid who plays a lot of Minecraft.”  As the day of reckoning came near, even the Cleveland Cavaliers came back from a historically hopeless 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Championship in Game 7. 

The battle against The Jefferson was fought for many reasons but it was primarily waged by those with children in the Ardsley School District. Here is the School District’s Vision Statement which amply describes the parents of those children who in a few months successfully mastered the land use process and forged new political alliances throughout the entire Town:

"District Vision:

Building on a tradition of academic excellence and success for every student, we cultivate passionate learners and informed global citizens who actively influence their world.

Guiding Pillars:
Academic Excellence - Maximizes personal potential and inspires collective achievement, so mastering curricular content is only the starting line and learning is tailored to needs, strengths and interests.

Success for Every Student - Is measured in a variety of ways. Our view of success reaches beyond academic performance and encompasses resilience, flexibility, tenacity, curiosity, creativity, empathy, determination and athletic and artistic expression.

Passionate Learners - Take full advantage of learning opportunities. They assume responsibility for their own learning, have courage to explore and take the initiative to discover their interests. They are self-motivated, demonstrate confidence, collaborate freely and share their discoveries.

Global Citizens - Engage in active inquiry to acquire knowledge that reflects the depth and breadth of the collective human experience. They influence their world by making positive, proactive choices about what to do with what they know to collaboratively effect change."

Paul Nitze wisely observed, “One of the most dangerous forms of human error is forgetting what one is trying to achieve.” The local global citizens who, in collaboration, sent JPI back to Texas, never forgot what they were trying to achieve – Stopping the Jefferson. They rose to the challenge at a time when, as Nitze said with respect to his involvement with the events of his era - an important thing needed to be done.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Breaking News - Jefferson Promoter Greg Belew Leaves JPI

A review of the various online trade journals and newsletters for the multi-family industry indicate that developers have been increasingly targeting the Northeast region of the United States for growth. As an example, TDI (a strategic partner of JPI, the developer of The Jefferson) was the developer of the $40 million transit-oriented, mixed use project in Farmingdale, NY across from the Farmingdale LIRR rail station which has been covered in a prior blog post which can be seen  here: Texas Shill Game

In a press release issued in connection with that undertaking, the following appeared:

“The Farmingdale Station project is a unique opportunity to create a mixed-use, transit-oriented development in the heart of Nassau County,” says Greg Belew, TDI investment partner, Northeast. “TDI was able to partner with a local developer who could not obtain financing and finished design and approval work to get construction underway for a project that will serve an area in need of revitalization.”

TDI, which is headquartered in Irving, Texas, has more than 2,200 units in development in Arizona, New York and Texas and plans to develop an additional 2,000 units in the next year. Its Northeast office, located in Irvington, N.Y., specializes in urban infill, transit-oriented and mixed-use developments.

“We are aggressively seeking similar opportunities in the Northeast where our strong track record and access to capital can move great projects such as this on forward to completion,” Belew says.

The brownfield cleanup application filed on behalf of The Jefferson and accepted by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation was overseen by Mr Belew:

He also appeared to be the contact person for their Northeast regional office (where it is across the street from the Irvington Metro North Station on the Hudson Line). 

Multi-Family News, an online newsletter for the multi-family industry, has now reported that Mr. Belew has left JPI and joined the Alliance Residential Company. Alliance's website describes it as follows:

"Alliance is one of the largest private U.S. multifamily companies with offices throughout the West, Southwest, South-Central, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. We have invested in more than $10 billion worth of real estate and manage a $14 billion portfolio with a focus toward superior local leadership and a comprehensive national support structure."
The full press release including Belew's long record of development activity at JPI can be read here: JPI's Belew Joins Alliance Residential.

Whether this is just a career move for Mr. Belew or it hints at something else regarding The Jefferson project is impossible to say. A phone call to Mr. Belew was not returned.

We do have one suggestion for JPI - if you are going to proceed with this misbegotten project, at least rename it The Hamilton. This would be more appropriate as Alexander Hamilton is reputed to have had an artillery encampment at the present day location of Ardsley's Concord Road Elementary School during the Battle of White Plains. In fact, the entrance way to Concord Road is a street with one house named Alexander Hamilton Avenue. But then again, JPI has never shown any interest in honoring our local history. historical amnesia

Of course, on July 11, 1804, former Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton was killed by sitting Vice-President Aaron Burr in a duel held in Weehawken, N.J. (our current presidential battle is thus seemingly tame by these standards).

Given that we are in a presidential election year, it should be of interest that Irving, Texas, the home of JPI, (and in light of Belew's departure, perhaps the former developer of The Jefferson?) is notable for its connection to presidential history. On the night of November 21, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald slept in a suburban house in Irving, Texas where he stored the Italian made surplus rifle he obtained by mail order used the next day to assassinate President John F. Kennedy from inside the Texas Book Depository where he was employed. Roadside America 

The house, which belonged to Ruth Paine, a friend of the Oswald family, has been turned into a museum. Paine House Museum  Not surprisingly, JPI appears not have had any involvement with the preservation of its hometown's history.

In other news, JPI's website ( current developments) has no information on a certain project in Ardsley, New York, which is 1400 miles away from the Paine House Museum.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Don't Count on The Jefferson to Lower Your Property Taxes

The Water Wheel Condominiums (on Saw Mill River Road (just opposite V.E. Macy Park)) in Ardsley appear ready for occupancy.  The project, built on the former site of the Water Wheel Inn (pictured below) destroyed by arson in 1992 (arson verdict upheld by Appellate Court) described itself as “Westchester’s Most Gracious Supper Club,”  and now is the location of twenty two (22) units of affordable and workplace housing.  The first closings are anticipated to take place this summer. 

Now multiply the Water Wheel buildings by slightly over twelve (12) times and you start to get a sense of the massive nature of JPI ‘s proposed Jefferson project 272 unit rental development less than a mile away on Saw Mill River Road. This is why at one of the scoping sessions for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a former Mayor of Ardsley observed that the colossal Jefferson posed an existential threat to the Village of Ardsley.

One of the benefits touted by the Texas based promoter of The Jefferson is that it will provide roughly eight (8) times the existing property taxes the site now generates with most of the real estate taxes going to the school district( school taxes are usually 60% of a property owner’s  tax bill).  The same argument is being made with respect to the proposed 85-98 bed Assisted Living Facility (known as The Shelbourne) at the existing Sprain Brook Nursery on Underhill Road in the Edgemont section of Unincorporated Greenburgh (where it is contended that the Edgemont School District will receive over half of the estimated $500,000 to $600,000 in tax revenue the project is expected to generate and not have to educate a single child).  

However, as opponents of the Shelbourne project have pointed out, this argument is misleading.  Furthermore, with respect to The Jefferson, depending on the costs of The Jefferson to the Ardsley School District, it may be entirely false.

The new assessed value of the real estate in Edgemont is approximately $1.2 billion dollars.  $250- $300,000 in school district taxes means that if the Shelbourne is permitted to be built, it will be assessed at roughly $16,000,000 (using a tax levy rate of 3.3% on a $16,000,000 property would generate a total $500,000 tax bill).

While it is true the school district will receive this tax money from Shelbourne, it will only represent a small portion of the overall tax levy on the taxpayers in that district. Essentially this means Shelbourne's school tax dollars  will be spread out over all the taxable parcels in Edgemont resulting in a minuscule tax benefit for any particular property owner.  For this "benefit, " the homeowners of Underhill Road (and nearby Sprain Road which is in the Ardsley School District) will be hearing the constant sounds of ambulance and fire truck sirens (the Greenville Fire Department on Central Avenue provides life safety services to Edgemont residents in addition to the Greenburgh EMTs) as they careen around the hairpin curves of Underhill Road to reach the elderly residents of The Shelbourne. As a matter of comparison, the Atria Woodlands assisted living facility in Ardsley now accounts for at least one-third of the calls from the all-volunteer ambulance corps (ASVAC).

Of course, unlike assisted living facilities, The Jefferson will have a number of students who, among other things, will have to be bussed to the various Ardsley schools, and of course educated. Additional teachers may have to be hired. Class size (already high) may further increase.  With the addition of hundreds of new residents and hundreds of new cars, the demands on other local municipal services (police, fire, garbage and recycling, road repair, EMT, etc.) will increase. The cost of these items and others may equal or exceed the possible tax benefits promised by the developer.  Parenthetically, local taxpayers will be further subsidizing The Jefferson with tax credits under New York State's flawed brownfields cleanup law which has been discussed in a series of prior blog posts. 

Further, as The Jefferson is a multi-family rental building, its will be assessed at the lowest residential property tax classification rate. Moreover, the developers of The Jefferson have not agreed to forego their right to challenge their tax assessment set by the Town of Greenburgh in the future.  Along these lines, a number of years ago Boulder Ridge unit owners received a tax refund of 1.5 million dollars from the Ardsley School District.  

Despite the developer's website professed assertion of providing tax relief to Ardsley School District taxpayers, in reality there is only a possibility of a  reduction of everyone’s school district taxes. Even if the developer's estimate of generating 1.2 million dollars in school tax revenue is accurate, at best this will result in a best case scenario of reducing school taxes by 2.4%. If many more children end up living in The Jefferson than predicted (as was true with Boulder Ridge by a factor of 3), or if State Aid becomes less available, or there are fewer out of district tuition students (or less classrooms to accomodate them due to increased enrollment) the claimed tax benefit will be an illusion. State Aid accounted for 10% of the projected 2016-2107 budget and $3,000,000 from the fund balance (the savings account made up of taxes collected but not used) resulted in a tax levy increase of 1.26%. Nevertheless, the entire budget increased 3.9% from the previous year's budget.

Just as there is no such thing as a free lunch, the environmental and quality of life burdens to the greater Rivertowns areas adjacent to The Jefferson in terms of, among many other things, traffic, flooding, and life safety have been well established and are being studied as part of the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) process. Of course, if the tax benefits turn out to be a fiction, our area will be left with the destabilizing aftermath of this mega-project for a generation.

As aptly observed in The Kinks' 1967 song "Sunny Afternoon:"  The tax man's taken all my dough, And left me in my stately home, Lazing on a sunny afternoon. And I can't sail my yacht, He's taken everything I've got, All I've got's this sunny afternoon.

Accordingly, any claimed tax benefit emanating from The Jefferson should be looked at with skepticism as if someone had invited you to dine at the Water Wheel Inn.  When it comes to JPI's self serving bromides that their project is "good" for our community, let's not end up wearing a T-shirt saying "JPI came, built The Jefferson and all we got was a sunny afternoon." Instead, we should look at JPI's propaganda as if it were the missing warning from an application to attend Trump University: 

Nothing here is promised. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

YES (in my back yard)

The point has been made in earlier blog posts that in addition to posing a serious threat to the health and safety of the Rivertowns, the proposed mega sized luxury rental project called “The Jefferson at Saw Mill” represents a complete failure of the imagination with respect to what, short of nothing, could be done with the vacant 10.77 acre parcel fronting on Lawrence Street and bordered by the Saw Mill River Parkway and Saw Mill River Road.

This post will be part of an ongoing attempt to answer an important question raised by the old Akzo Nobel site - what type of project would the Rivertowns and Greenburgh say YIMBY (Yes in my back yard) to? To date, outside of the developers and a lone merchant (via a comment to a story in the online Westchester Business Journal) in the nearby Chauncey Square who undoubtedly would like to peddle his nutritional supplements and weight loss products to Jeffersonistas, no one else has come forward to say this project makes sense for the surrounding community. To the contrary, as evidenced by the unprecedented turnouts at the scoping sessions and the numerous orange NO TO JEFFERSON lawn signs all over Ardsley and parts of Dobbs Ferry, local opposition to the project is widespread.

The Town of Greenburgh’s 2015 Draft Comprehensive Plan’s discussion of the Lawrence Street site is itself an ambiguous muddle that suggests in a cursory manner that the area could be developed for “complementary” uses supportive of the adjacent Research and Development Cluster. As a result, the developers of The Jefferson have claimed their project is consistent with the Draft Comprehensive Plan. Of course, this is arguably a Texas sized stretch as complementary means “combining in such a way as to enhance or emphasize the qualities of each other or another.” How luxury rentals enhance or emphasize the qualities of a research and development cluster is puzzling.

Nearly 70 years ago, in the middle of the 20th Century, Ardsley itself was the site of a pioneering land use initiative led by young architects including Charles Bliss, Lionel Freedman, Fred Ginsbern, Martin Glaberson, Roy S. Johnson, Irving Rubin and Stanley Torkelson. Torkelson had been an associate in the office of leading modernist architect Edward D. Stone (the GM building at 767 5th Avenue in Manhattan and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. are two of his most well-known major commissions). Torkelson (along with Johnson and Bliss) became residents of their Frank Lloyd Wright styled homes located in the vicinity of Orlando and Park in Ardsley.

A 1997 New York Times article about Ardsley entitled “Nicked by Thruway, Solid in Amenities” in the real estate section contained the following: “In some sections of Ardsley today, the vegetation is still so lush and dense that it is more like the country than a bustling suburban community. One such area is referred to as the ''original 21 acres,'' a hilly swath of land developed by a group of architects and other professionals in 1946. ''We were looking for interesting terrain in a wooded area with natural boundaries and no through traffic,'' said Stanley Torkelsen, who is still a working architect and living in the house he and the group helped design. ''We came up with a module house, with a plank roof and exposed beams,'' Mr. Torkelsen said. They built 13 of the same houses, each on 1.33 acres. The result is one of the most unusual developments in Westchester. For the most part, low-slung wooden houses sit unobtrusively on heavily landscaped property. The houses practically disappear in the foliage. ''They were all the same style originally,'' Mr. Torkelsen said, ''but over the years, people made changes. Some still have the original character.''

While it is no longer 1950, and Lawrence Street is not the bucolic area where the twenty-one acres subdivision was built, the photograph below of the current site where the proposed Jefferson buildings are planned indicates its similar wooded landscape.

The mid-century homes designed by these architects are now highly prized and are discussed on a number of online forums. The renovation of one of Johnson’s homes by its current co-owners Carla and Niall Maher to restore the building to its original look) is the focus of their Instagram site “the wood house” as well as a companion article showing their collection of mid-century artifacts that complement the home. Maher renovation in Ardsley

As further noted in the online journal Mid-Century renovation “Built into a hillside in the town of Ardsley, the four-bedroom, single-story ranch is set in a wooded enclave of midcentury dwellings designed by Roy S. Johnson and Stanley Torkleson: “Thirteen homes were built through a cooperative that consisted of architects, engineers, photographers, academics, and other professionals,” says Carla. “They pooled their resources to keep costs down and made sure each house had enough land and privacy.”

As described in an online biography of one of the founders of the twenty one acres development: “In 1946 a group of professionals decided to form a cooperative with the purpose of building affordable homes in an ideal environment for growing, young families.” By 1950 the project (as well as a companion undertaking further north in Mt. Pleasant called Usonia), was discussed in an article in the March 26, 1950 edition of The New York Times which bore the following headings and subheadings: “Westchester Gets Home Groups Using Cooperative Plans” “Ardsley Project Rising” “Joint-Ownership Idea Aids Veterans to Create Housing on Site of 21 Acres” which opens with the following sentence: “Two significant and pioneering ventures in the field of cooperative home ownership are taking form in the Westchester suburbs.”

It is perhaps fitting to note that one of the original owners (and believed to be the last original owner) of a Twenty One Acres home was esteemed psychiatrist Dr. Montague Ullman (1916-2008), an internationally recognized research pioneer in the Study of Dreams who lived in Ardsley for nearly sixty (60) years. Unfortunately, instead of being presented with a project to match these visionary dreamers of another era, today’s residents of Ardsley are instead confronted with the nightmare called The Jefferson at Saw Mill.

It should also not go unnoticed that, as reported in the current editions of the Rivertowns Enterprise and the Hudson Independent, in the nearby Village of Irvington, where another large assisted living facility was planned to be built by Brightview, once it became clear the project would not be endorsed by the Mayor (or in developerspeak, he would not appear in the photo-op of the groundbreaking ceremony), Brightview folded its tent and withdrew its project. Brightview withdraws application

It is hoped the developers of The Jefferson will read their own Mission Statement about the need to respect others and follow the example of leadership shown by the owners of Brightview.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Silence is Not Golden - The Jefferson and the Comprehensive Plan

The neighbors of a nearby rifle range were up in arms (no pun intended). They contended that Westchester County had become too populous for the noise, the traffic and the hazards of outdoor target practice. As reported in The New York Times “A petition of neighbors asks the Greenburgh Town Board to close the range because of new $30,000 to $65,000 houses near it. The petition says that in addition to the “booming volleys” and barrages of what sounds like a Civil War battle or gang war there is the added insult of a resounding loudspeaker.”

That was written in 1962 and the rifle range at issue was the former facility on Ardsley Road in Greenburgh that had been in existence since either the 1930s or the 1940s and was operated by The Westchester County Police Revolver & Rifle League. Despite the name, the range had no official connection to law enforcement. It was not until 2014, over half a century later after the first complaints were made, amidst allegations that a shell casing from the range was found in the nearby new Toll Brothers development on Ardsley Road coupled with complaints by residents in nearby Edgemont that as a result of tree deforestation by Con Edison, the noise levels at the range had become unbearable, the range was forced to close.

The rifle range is being used as an example of things that fall into the proverbial black hole of public attention and official indifference.

A recent story in this Thursday’s The New York Times discusses the dubious circumstances under which a deed restriction on a property on Rivington Street that limited the property to non-profit healthcare uses was removed (following the efforts of connected lobbyists) resulting ultimately in the resale of the property to a “for profit” nursing home company at a gain to the seller who had the restriction lifted of one hundred million dollars. Previously the City of New York had received $16.5 million for this deed change – leaving $100 million on the table when the property was resold for $116 million.

Undoubtedly Mr. Trump will be making this an example of a “bad” deal when the primary battle comes to New York State as Mayor de Blasio has endorsed Mrs. Clinton.

Notice of the lifting of the deed restriction was published for one day in an obscure NYC publication. In shades of the brownfield application by JPI filed with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which was published to little fanfare in The Journal News, no one who was going to be impacted by the deed change, was notified.

As an online commentator to the story about the Rivington Street building wisely observed:

“I'm aghast that with all the technology and media we have to keep up with the Kardashians 24/7 that RE transactions in NY are purposely only published in the least read places and neither the media or (sic) the mayor is apprised of anything that's going on until after the fact.”

Once again, we cannot fault the bureaucrats at the DEC as the “notice” provisions to local communities about Brownfields are dictated by the New York State legislature who is stuck in the 19th century by requiring notice by publication in newspapers.

In Greenburgh, after an eight (8) year effort costing nearly half a million dollars, the Town (excluding the incorporated Villages), created a draft Comprehensive Plan ("DCP").

As explained on the Town website, “A comprehensive plan is a strategic and visionary document that describes a community’s desired future for a period of approximately 20 years. It is based on community‐derived values and guides decision‐making and actions affecting the enhancement, growth and physical development of the community. A comprehensive plan is a policy document that does not, in and of itself, have the force of law. However, once adopted, all policies and municipal laws, including local zoning regulations, must be consistent with the plan."

The Jefferson site is located adjacent to what the DCP calls the “R & DCS” or southerly research and development cluster in an area called "Research and Development Supportive." As explained in page 12-62 of the DCP:

"Similar to the R&DCN (the northern research and development cluster on Old Saw Mill River Road near the border of Greenburgh and Mt Pleasant), the southern cluster is also heavily buffered from residential uses by distance, site topography, wooded areas and highway rights‐of‐way. These site features provide the potential for greater densities and heights of buildings. A broad range of research and development uses, commercial and office uses, and satellite office/research uses of universities and medical centers could be located on the site. In order to further support the R&DCS (Figure 12.20 reproduced below), uses complementary to those necessary for successful R&D clusters could be developed on adjacent existing sites."

The only reference in the DCP for the term “complementary” is as follows:

“Complementary development planned in the Village of Dobbs Ferry includes a project known as “Rivertowns Square,” which proposes a 107‐room hotel and residential and commercial mixed‐uses. This mix of uses in close proximity to the R&DCS would provide services not currently existing.”

So there we have it – one small ambiguous three word reference to the over 10 acre site where JPI wants to build 272 apartment units in the Ardsley School District. Is this Complementary Development? Is this Research and Development Supportive?   Would The Jefferson be consistent with the DCP as now written? Is the DCP  visionary and strategic? It should not surprise anyone that JPI, in its brownfield cleanup application with the DEC,  claimed the DCP supports the construction of The Jefferson.

Zoning and planning are like war - they are too important to leave to the Generals.

In future posts we will explore what other types of complementary or supportive uses could have been considered (or could still be considered) in the DCP for the former Azko Nobel site where JPI plans to build. 

Parenthetically, the draft Comprehensive Plan makes no mention of the area in Greenburgh where the rifle range was located for nearly seventy five (75) years.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Taxing Questions and The Jefferson Brownfield

The Town of Greenburgh has just posted on its website the results of Texas based Tyler Technologies'  reassessment of all classes of real estate in Greenburgh. 

According to a revised email from Supervisor Paul Feiner, traditionally a reassessment results in one third of the taxable properties increasing in market value, one third staying the same and one third decreasing in market value.

For unexplained reasons, this rule of thumb did not operate in Greenburgh.

For example, The Jefferson site is now vacant land. According to the developer's filings, it contains just over 10 acres. However, according to Supervisor Feiner, in Greenburgh, 3% of the vacant land decreased in value, 59% stayed the same and 38% increased in value.

The last tax assessment was done over 60 years ago in 1956. These figures lead to a number of questions:

How does vacant land in Greenburgh decrease in value over half a century?

How does vacant land in Greenburgh not increase in value in over half a century?

What accounts for 59%  of the vacant land in Greenburgh being assessed at the same  rate as in 1956?

If you compare the vacant land tax assessment percentages with Greenburgh's commercial property, these are the changes in value as of the July 1, 2015 valuation date:

Commercial Property / Vacant Land                              

40% decrease / 3% decrease                                           
47% stayed the same / 59% stayed the same                               
12% increase/ 38% increase                                          

Now lets compare these numbers with condominiums/coops:

14% decrease
82% stayed the same
3.4% increase

Accordingly, 96% of condo/coop owners experienced either no increase or a decrease in their assessments.

When you compare condominiums/coops with single family houses, the numbers are far worse for single family homeowners:

24% decrease
42% stayed the same
34% increase

In other words, 68% of single family homeowners received either no increase or a decrease in their assessments while over a third received an increase.  Given that both classes of property are residential, and the purpose of the reassessment (which costs millions of dollars) is to create tax fairness, how is this discrepancy possible?

The answer is that condominiums and coops are not assessed at full value (as are single family homes). Instead assessments of these units are based on their value as rental units (something that could, in the case of condominiums be changed if the Town adopted the Homestead Option  - which the Town Board elected not to do).  

It follows that The Jefferson, a straight rental, if built, will generate property taxes at the lowest rate of residential assessment (and conversely, they, like condominium and coop owners, will be subsidized by the owners of single family homes, which in the case of the Rivertowns and most of Greenburgh, are the majority form of residential home ownership). 

Readers are encouraged to look at the recent facebook or website posts of the Edgemont Community Council for specific examples of this property tax subsidy.

Moreover, unlike in Greenburgh, the Scarsdale Forum issued a study of the issue for its Village Board favoring the adoption of the Homestead Option. (open link and scroll down to the Homestead Tax Report link). 

However, the Village Board, after reviewing the Scarsdale Forum report and having at least two public hearings, ultimately decided not to adopt the option as it essentially targeted a handful of condominium owners and would only result in a $99 savings for single family homeowners. 

In contrast, Greenburgh has thousands of cooperative and condominium units all of whom continue to enjoy the tax subsidy which is permitted under State law. It can only be changed if the Town adopts the Homestead Option (and again, this only applies to condominiums and not cooperatives). 

Parenthetically,  the availability of the Homestead Option proves that the distinction between condominiums (which are sold in arms lengths transactions where the price is public knowledge and thus available to the Assessor to determine their true market value) and single family homes (which are assessed on market value) is entirely artificial. 

Even if the distinctions between condominiums and single family homes are factored in, the way to achieve tax fairness is to assess condominiums at some fraction of their market value and not at their potential rental income value.  

The Jefferson site itself has an address of One Lawrence Street. However, when you plug in that address on the Tyler database, only two parcels appear (the owner, of course, being Azko Nobel)

Results   Click rows to view property detailsDisplaying 1 - 3 of 3
Parcel ID▲
Property Address

When you look at these two parcels, the first is listed as consisting of .70 acres (with an assessment of $35,000) and the second is listed as being 1.79 acres (with an assessment of 89,500).

What happened to the remaining eight (8) acres? This question will be posed to Tyler for a response.

In addition to the lower rate of assessment for rental properties, a notable point was made by one of the speakers at the second scoping session that if you permit the One Lawrence Street site to become completely residential, you forego the opportunity for at least half a century or more  (the anticipated life cycle for The Jefferson buildings) for either industrial or commercial development on the site.

The chart below from the Town Assessor's section of the Town's website showing how to calculate an assessed value of a residential and commercial property in 2015. As the chart shows, in Greenburgh, commercial property is taxed at a higher rate (3.33%) than residential property (2.61%):

Property Class      Assessed    Value rate      
Residential           16,500        2.61%       = *
Commercial       125,000        3.33%       = **

* $16,500 divided by 2.61% =  $632, 183
**$125,000 divided by 3.33% = $3, 753, 753

However, a condominium in Greenburgh worth $632, 183 would have a tax assessment of nearly 50% less than a single family house with equal market value in the same Town!

Not only is the developer of The Jefferson enjoying being assessed at the lower Income Approach for its property  (even though it is a luxury property with high end condominium features),  but its tax rate will be at the lower residential rate than if the parcels were developed for commercial use.

As explained in prior posts about the Brownfield Cleanup Program, the developer will be getting a further tax subsidy of  anywhere between 30 to 40% of its remediation and development costs from   New York State taxpayers under New York State's highly controversial Brownfield Cleanup Progam.

As Marvin Gaye, in his 1965 hit song written by Smoky Robinson and the Miracles sang- Ain't That Peculiar? (kudos to Greenburgh's Hal Samis for the song tip).

In determining whether The Jefferson is a positive or negative for our community, it is increasingly clear that at nearly every level of analysis, The Jefferson is primarily good for the developer and a danger to the life, health, safety and quality of life of Greenburgh residents AND ITS TAXPAYERS.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Next Stop.... Yonkers?

In the February 19, 2016 edition of the Rivertowns Enterprise, Kris DiLorenzo’s story entitled “Objections pile up against The Jefferson,” which recapped the second Jefferson DEIS scoping session with the Greenburgh Town Board ends as follows: “Bill Hirschman expressed succinctly one objection to the Jefferson: This is going to turn Ardsley into an extension of Yonkers.”

It is not readily clear what this means.  Does it relate to the housing desegregation litigation which was depicted in the recent acclaimed HBO mini-series “Show Me A Hero” which arose out of the controversial case known as “United States vs. Yonkers?” Or does it refer to the longstanding and legitimate concerns of residents of outer ring suburbs like Ardsley about the presence of large multi-family developments in areas traditionally populated by single family homes? Before it was outlawed as an illegal real estate practice, sellers of homes in Northwest Yonkers advertised their homes as being located in "Hastings Vicinity."  Perhaps Yonkers should take a page from North Tarrytown (now called Sleepy Hollow) and re-brand itself as apparently saying your community will be like Yonkers is suburban code for something bad.

Yonkers is a city of  200,000 inhabitants covering a land area of approximately 18 square miles. In contrast, Ardsley, a village, is just over one square mile in size, with a population of roughly 4500 residents. Outside of perhaps the weather, Yonkers is vastly different from Ardsley by any conventional measure – demographics, government structure, per capita income, educational levels, transportation (Yonkers is now served by four train stations on the Hudson Line (Yonkers, Ludlow, Greystone and Glenwood) and Crestwood (which uses a “Tuckahoe” address) on the Harlem Line while Ardsley has no train stations.  Yonkers has two hospitals, two colleges (Sarah Lawrence (which uses a Bronxville address) Westchester Community College which has an extension in the Cross County Center shopping mall) and a museum (the Hudson River Museum). 

Yonkers, being located on the Hudson, also has an active kayak club (Yonkers Paddling and Rowing).  In addition, Yonkers has several religious seminaries such as the Academy for Jewish Religion, St. Joseph's (Roman Catholic) and St. Vladimir’s (Christian Orthodox).  Yonkers is also the home of a casino, a racetrack, a marathon race, a marina and the now restored Persian Gardens of Samuel Untermeyer. Ridge Hill (whatever you make of it coupled with its history of being approved only after a City Council Member was bribed to change her vote) is located in Yonkers (as well as the trifecta of Costco, Stew Leonard’s and Home Depot) and a good portion of the local traffic boogieman – Central Park Avenue, which also cuts through Edgemont in Greenburgh on its way north to the City of White Plains where it ends at Tarrytown Road (Route 119) near the City Limits Diner. Of course, to get from Ardsley to Yonkers, you have to pass through a portion of Hastings-on Hudson or the section of unincorporated Greenburgh having a Hastings-on Hudson postal address near the Mount Hope Cemetery which is known as Donald Park.

What sections of southwestern Yonkers once had is what the developer of The Brownfield at Saw Mill (which in true real estate fashion has been renamed the The Jefferson at Saw Mill) falsely claims their project to be -  a transit oriented development.  Wikipedia defines transit oriented development as follows:

“A transit-oriented development (TOD) is a mixed use residential and commercial area designed to maximize access to public transport, and often incorporates features to encourage transit ridership.”

This is as far away from a description of The Jefferson as you could imagine. 

As explained in a fascinating article appearing in a 2004 edition of the National Railway Bulletin entitled "The Phantom Spur - Retracing the Vanished Getty Square Branch of the Putnam Railroad", former Yonkers resident and historian Daniel Abraham Klein, whose original home on Saratoga Avenue in Yonkers backed up to what his mother called “the tracks,” detailed the saga of a rapid transit spur which was an early example of true transit oriented development.

As Klein explains, the goal of the Yonkers Rapid Transit Railway, formed in 1879, was to build a three mile stretch of railway from a junction in Van Cortlandt Park (and not far from the oldest building in the Bronx, the 1748 Van Cortlandt Mansion) to Getty Square in downtown Yonkers. “From the start,” he writes, “the plans for the Yonkers Rapid Transit Railway had anticipated the development of new residential communities along the route. The Park Hill, Lowerre and Caryl sections of Yonkers have in fact been described as among the earliest planned suburban areas in the country.”

The picture below is from the 1912 catalog of Park Hill homes developed by builder-architects the American Real Estate Company showing its proximity to the Putnam Railroad. According to Klein in his Phantom Spur article, “Park Hill was linked to the Getty Square rail line in a picturesque and dramatic fashion. An “incline elevator” transported passengers by hydraulic-powered tram from the Park Hill station at South Broadway up a steep 107-foot hill to Alta Avenue.The incline was anchored at either end by two depots built in 1893, the lower one in Neo-Tudor style in the upper one in the late Victorian “shingle style.”

The spur serving these communities was discontinued after roughly 55 years of operation in 1943 for, as explained by Klein, primarily economic reasons. In a related article appearing in the Spring 2009 edition of The Yonkers Historian, “Yonkers versus United States:” The Epic Legal Struggle to Save the Getty Square Railroad Branch, Klein relates the twists and turns of the attempt by the Putnam Railroad to close the Getty Square spur (and sell it for scrap to ostensibly help the war effort) and the numerous ways the City of Yonkers and others, including commuters, tried to prevent it. The legal dispute was the subject of two appearances before the United States Supreme Court which ultimately decided in favor of the railroad. In his articles, which double as travelogues on a search for the physical remains of the now phantom spur, Klein discovers that “the tracks” behind his childhood home were the remnants of the portion of the spur that ran between the now vanished Caryl and Lowerre stations.

Ardsley and Yonkers still do not have much in common. What they do share is the loss of true transit oriented development with the closing of the Getty Square spur (and in the case of Ardsley, the entire Putnam Division which had depots in both the Chauncey section of Ardsley and Ardsley itself (although some contend the station was actually in Dobbs Ferry)) and its phony appropriation by the developers of the Brownfields at Saw Mill where transit oriented development (let alone the amorphous “bicycle oriented development”) only exists in their marketing propaganda.

In the February 23, 2016 edition of The New York Times, it is reported that Bob Dylan has long been the most cited songwriter in judicial opinions and that even the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who loved opera, also had a soft spot for Bob Dylan.

As Dylan sang in his epic song poem – It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), a track on his Bringing It All Back Home album (Columbia Records, 1965) – “propaganda, all is phony. “

As Ardsley Mayor Peter Porcino noted at the final scoping session, he knows of no plans by the Town of Greenburgh, the County of Westchester or the State of New York to create any form of new transit facilities at the location where The Jefferson is proposed to be built. At best, and its a poor substitute, the developer suggests it might provide a trolley to transport its Jeffersonistas to the train station. 

Here is a better idea - let The Jefferson vanish from our midst like the Getty Spur until its promoters can come up with a true transit oriented development as was done in Yonkers over a century ago.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

NYS Government Dysfunction Strikes Greenburgh - The Controversial Brownfields Cleanup Law Part 2

In 2003, legislation was signed into law by then Governor George Pataki whose purpose was to turn unproductive brownfields, to wit, contaminated sites left behind when industry was globalized, found mostly in upstate New York, often in low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, and on formerly industrial waterways, into job machines. This was to be accomplished by giving tax credits to developers to recover their costs for both environmental cleanup and subsequent construction at the site to be remediated. Some of the thinking behind the brownfield cleanup law was to relieve development pressure on “greenfields” such as farmlands and other undeveloped land in order to preserve open space, stop urban sprawl and spur re-development of these former industrial sites.

The plan sounded wonderful. A proverbial “win win.”

The 2003 law came after a decade long battle in New York’s legislature to address various issues regarding the cleanup of New York State’s thousands of brownfield sites. When the law was signed, Governor Pataki, as reported by The New York Times said: ''This historic legislation represents a victory for all New Yorkers. By taking steps to protect our environment, this legislation will generate new opportunities for economic growth, bringing new jobs into communities around the state, while protecting the health of all New Yorkers.''

Hopeful notes were sounded by members of the legislature as also reported in the same New York Times article on September 17, 2003:

''If we can energize Rochester, Troy, Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany, New York City, all of the cities with brownfields in the inner cities, and get those inner cores of these cities back working, this will be huge,'' said Senator Carl L. Marcellino, the chairman of the environmental committee in the Senate.

But it didn’t turn out that way. Now Ardsley, its school district, the nearby villages of Dobbs Ferry and Hastings-on-Hudson and the Town of Greenburgh are caught in the cross-fire of Albany’s typical dysfunction in creating a program that, by and large, has failed to meet its stated goals of cleaning up toxic sites and getting New York State’s cities back to work. Instead, as with The Jefferson, New York’s brownfield law continues to subsidize luxury development in an area of the State that suffers neither high unemployment nor economic distress.

In the 2013 study of New York state tax credits (discussed in Part 1 about New York’s Controversial Brownfields Cleanup Law), researchers Donald Boyd of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government and Marilyn Marks Rubin of John Jay College, found that in almost 10 years after the 2003 law was signed, only 133 of the state’s estimated 10,000 brownfields sites were cleaned up through the tax incentives. The report concluded that “The brownfield credits were intended to remediate and restore blighted land, but they have functioned more as a real estate development program.”

In 2014, Katherine Nadeau, the policy director of Environmental Advocates of New York, in testifying about the impact of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed executive budget elaborated further:

“Tens of thousands of toxic sites blight our neighborhoods statewide – they can be found in nearly every county, municipality and legislative district. Brownfields create an unsafe environment, hinder our ability to attract new industry, and reduce property values.

The State’s Brownfields Cleanup Program was designed to clean up these sites while directing development away from ‘green fields’ and investing in communities. Unfortunately, it has not produced results for areas most in need of public funding – particularly Upstate, communities of color, or those with high unemployment or poverty rates. In fact, an Environmental Advocates’ November 2013 analysis found that New York State had cut checks totaling more than $1.14 billion to clean up just 131 sites. Locations were often in wealthy areas with a robust building market, and many of these projects would have occurred based on the site’s attractive real estate value regardless of the existence of the Brownfields tax credit.”

Notably in the 2013 Boyd/Rubin report, the following startling observations were made:

“Fewer sites have been remediated under the (2013) brownfield program than under the earlier Voluntary Cleanup Program that did not offer tax credits. In almost ten years, 133 sites have been remediated at a cost of more than $900 million, compared with 212 sites remediated under the voluntary program. Despite reforms that were enacted in 2008, the credit will continue to cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The amount of expected credits not yet used exceeds $3.3 billion and will be a drag on future budgets. Credit-claiming is likely to remain highly concentrated and disproportionately focused in the downstate region.”

Of course, readers might notice the inherent tension in any brownfield cleanup law – is its chief purpose cleaning up contaminated land or one of stimulating economic activity?

To give just one illustration why New York State’s Brownfield tax credit program is controversial, the Boyd/Rubin report notes:

In 2013, the two largest credit programs — brownfield and film production unevenly benefited economic activity in New York City and other parts of “Downstate” New York. Approximately 59 percent of brownfield credits claimed between 2008 and 2012 were for projects in NYC where 44 percent of the state’s nonfarm jobs are located. Seventeen percent of brownfield credits were for projects in Westchester where (together with Putnam and Rockland Counties) six percent of NYS’s nonfarm jobs are located. The remaining 24 percent of brownfield credits were claimed for projects in the rest of the state where 50 percent of the jobs are located.

Not only are the NYS’ business tax credits concentrated among a few industries that are granted preferential treatment (film and brownfields accounting for at least 50% of the tax credits), they are also concentrated among a small number of taxpayers who account for the vast majority of tax credits claimed (i.e., essentially of the millions of tax returns filed in New York State, only a minuscule number of returns claimed the business tax credits).

Boyd and Rubin then cited several reasons why NYS’ Brownfield Cleanup Law was going to be both expensive and not meet its dual goals of promoting environmental clean-up and economic development which included, but were not limited to, the following:

1) Eligibility for credits was not limited to economically struggling areas of the state, or to projects that seemed unlikely to occur without the credits.

2) Unlike credits in most other states, they were not limited to a percentage of clean-up costs, but instead extended to virtually all site preparation costs and costs of buildings and equipment.

3) There was no requirement that the credit be deemed necessary for the redevelopment of a site.

As the Boyd/Rubin report further provides: “Not long after the credit program was enacted, the press noted instances of large credits associated with little remediation, or in areas that were healthy economically, or that were used by firms or people believed to be well connected, or that appeared unnecessary to induce redevelopment. For example, the retailer Ikea redeveloped a former Navy shipyard in Brooklyn and received a $19.8 million credit. The head of real estate for the company was quoted as saying, “From the Ikea point of view, it didn’t really change anything for us. We were going to do the cleanup anyway, the tax breaks are just a nice bonus.””

By 2015, the 2003 law, even after minor tweaks in 2008, was widely recognized as broken. In March 2015, Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY) issued its 4th report on NYS’ brownfield cleanup law Ripe for Reform.

In their Ripe for Reform report, EANY highlighted the key structural problem with New York’s law: “Currently, developers receive tax credits for both the cleanup of a brownfield and for redevelopment. It is the redevelopment credits that, by far, incur the greatest costs of this program. They are a needless giveaway to developers who do not need further encouragement to build in already competitive real estate markets. Since 2008, tax credits awarded solely for site cleanup assistance totaled $122,257,583. Comparatively, $797,946,541 (86-percent of total payouts) has been paid to developers as a percentage on the development value on the remediated sites. The structural deficiencies within the existing law favor costly developments in the state’s most competitive real estate markets over communities that are most in need of these public incentives.”

Among their recommendations for reform was the following:

Targeting tax incentives to communities most in need of public investment, through different gateways, to drive development to areas with high unemployment rates and those desperate to turn an abundance of brownfields into an economic engine.

The report concluded with the following: “In fact, areas of the state that would benefit most from an effective Brownfields Cleanup Program have been left out in the cold, while taxpayers foot the bill for a few high-end luxury developments in areas that would have already been cleaned up and redeveloped anyways.”

The key reform suggested by Environmental Advocates of New York (and seemingly part of Governor Cuomo’s reform package) was never included in the law when it was renewed in 2015. Undoubtedly convicted felons former Assembly and State Senate leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, who both had strong ties to New York State’s powerful real estate lobby, were part of that decision.

Further, when the brownfield cleanup law came up for renewal in 2015, after over a decade of disappointing results and a growing concern over the cost, efficiency and fairness of the program, Thomas Abinanti, the New York State Assemblyman representing Ardsley and parts of Greenburgh, a long term supporter of New York’s brownfield cleanup law, who constantly touts his self-described strong environmental record in his newsletters, was otherwise busy promoting a reckless law providing parents with the right to decide whether to vaccinate their children against diseases that had been essentially wiped out in our lifetimes. At the same time he was seeking support for his “choose to vaccinate law,” outbreaks of measles started appearing in California where a similar vaccine refusal law had been passed.

However, while the 2015 renewal of the State’s brownfield cleanup law made a number of changes to address the problems with the law (albeit mostly targeted for developments in New York City and not Westchester County), the developer of The Jefferson filed its project with the Department of Environmental Conservation prior to the changes enacted in 2015. Accordingly, The Jefferson, if built, will receive tax benefits under New York’s pre-existing and highly flawed brownfield cleanup law.

New York’s brownfield cleanup law fails to require any meaningful public input (let alone sufficient public notice) prior to its consideration by the DEC. There is no requirement that a proposed project conform to smart growth principles of sustainable development or be located in an area that is served by adequate transportation networks and facilities. Brownfield development is handled quite differently in other states and other countries. In Germany, brownfields are developed at the outset with extensive public participation (not by using contact lists created by an out of state developer who posts “public” notices in the back of little read newspapers). Initial uses of brownfields are temporary to both maintain (and increase) property values and keep redevelopment options open for permanent use. This helps create positive public perception and place branding. Moreover, the focus of brownfield re-use is on creating new areas of innovation, places for clusters of related businesses, and incubators and connections for small and medium sized businesses which link apprenticeships and workforce training.

These are exactly the type of uses (in conjunction with Greenburgh and Westchester County’s existing biotech and other industries) envisioned in Greenburgh’s draft comprehensive plan for the site where The Jefferson is planned.For example, the nearby biotechnology headquarters of Acorda Therapuetics on Saw Mill River Road in Ardsley, employs several hundred persons.   Instead of this highly desirable use,  our community is being offered something there is no evidence it needs or wants – 272 luxury rental units with 438 parking spaces. Further, the proposed multi-family development will produce far lower taxes than a commercial occupant.  Additionally, the proposed intensive residential use will have adverse consequences for both the Ardsley School District and Greenburgh’s life safety support systems. In short, the proposed singular use of the existing property (depicted below) evidences a wholesale failure of the imagination to turn this location into something of great value for everyone and not just the developer. Instead, we are getting a subsidized Texas sized mess.

While we may never learn if the brownfield tax credits were the driving force behind the proposed development, it is a good assumption that the massive size of the project is linked to the generous tax credits New York State (and thus its taxpayers) gives to developers of brownfields. For example, down the street on Route 9A, on a parcel nearly the same size, but with no brownfield credits, the developer is building only 66 units at The Lofts.

It is a safe bet we are getting the “amenity rich” luxury multifamily development at One Lawrence Street, in part, if not in whole, because of New York’s flawed brownfield cleanup law. Accordingly, it would be more appropriate to name JPI/TDI’s project as The Brownfield at Saw Mill.

In the developer’s Expanded Environmental Assessment filed with the Town of Greenburgh, the tax subsidized Brownfield at Saw Mill is estimated to generate fourteen permanent jobs.

It is unstated if they will ride their bicycles to work.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

New York State's Controversial Brownfield Cleanup Law - Part 1

 At the last night's scoping session before the Greenburgh Town Board, several issues were raised about the brownfield nature of the site where JPI/TDI seeks to build The Jefferson. A “brownfield” is a term used in urban planning to describe land previously used for industrial purposes which has been contaminated with hazardous substances as a result of prior polluting operations at the location. This accurately describes the site where the Jefferson is scheduled to be built.          

 As noted in an earlier blog post, it was revealed the developer will be entitled to certain tax credits from New York State in connection with the cost to bring One Lawrence Street up to environmental standards suitable for residential purposes as well as also being entitled to additional credits depending on its final project construction costs. 

Of course, this was not disclosed on their website which only announced they will be spending millions to clean up the site. While this may be true (and to date JPI/TDI has not started its investigation of the location to determine the scope of the contamination, a process that will take many months), all New York State taxpayers will be reimbursing a portion of these costs to the developer under New York State’s Brownfield Cleanup Law (“BCL”) (which is administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC").  To help understand the brownfield issues at The Jefferson site, we will, over several posts, and as the need arises, provide information about New York's controversial Brownfield Cleanup Law.


After the second scoping session was closed (subject to two (2) additional weeks to kept the record open for further comments from the public regarding the scoping document), Bob Bernstein, the president of the Edgemont Community Council spoke at length about “Xposure," an after school project funded by the taxpayers who live in the unincorporated section of the Town of Greenburgh such as Edgemont. As noted by Mr. Bernstein, no one was questioning the value of the Xposure program which, according to a New York Times article posted on Xposure's website, is a practical business program that exposes children to job interviewing skills, work etiquette, how to make investments and otherwise introduces them to the world of finance. 

What makes the Xposure program controversial is that, among other things, it is apparently serving only one school district in the Town of Greenburgh, Greenburgh Central. (Greenburgh, including the districts named after the villages, has eleven school districts). Mr. Bernstein's central point was that Town tax dollars should not be spent this way and he suggested the proper way to fund Xposure was to obtain grants from various agencies. In fact, the Xposure program in Greenburgh was originally funded primarily by grants from the Lanza Family Foundation, a local charity founded by philanthropist Patrica Lanza of Eastchester. However, when Mrs. Lanza passed away in 2014, the grants ceased. The Town then stepped in and fully funded the program which includes providing free buses from the Greenburgh Central School District to the Theodore T. Young Community Center (which is near Town Hall) where the Xposure classes are held.

On a historical yet clearly topical note, Mr. Bernstein's comments are well grounded. Along these lines, the Preamble to the United Stated Constitution (written in 1787) (and now taught in 5th grade under the Common Core), contains the following purpose: "To promote the general welfare." Even our framers were cognizant that government spending should serve all persons and not a select group. 

How taxes should be allocated was also on the mind of the late David M. Glixon, a noted editor and book reviewer, who lived on Prospect Avenue in Ardsley, when in a letter dated October 5, 1966 and published in the October 9, 1966 edition of The New York Times, he wrote the following to the newspaper’s editor concerning the then burning issue of the Vietnam War:

"According to a plan just approved by the Senate Finance Committee, taxpayers would indicate on their returns whether they wish a portion of their tax to be allocated to Presidential campaign funds. 

It is indeed high time we had a say on the use of our money. But why stop at campaign funds? How about a box to be checked if the taxpayer prefers that his taxes not be used to finance an undeclared war?"

What are Tax Credits and Are they Effective? 
In November 2013, a report was prepared for the New York State Tax Reform and Fairness Commission entitled: New York State Business Tax Credits: Analysis and Evaluation. A tax credit is a tax incentive which allows certain taxpayers to subtract the amount of the credit from the total tax they owe the State. The report's main focus was an analysis of New York State's two largest tax credit incentives - the most expensive one being its brownfield cleanup program followed by the film industry.

In the Executive Summary the following appears: 

           "In the 2013 tax year, New York State (NYS) provided an estimated $1.7 billion in 50 business tax credits to encourage taxpayers to engage in specific activities. Business tax credits and other incentives have laudable goals such as encouraging economic development statewide; promoting job growth in distressed areas; and furthering the state’s social, housing, and environmental policies. Economic development officials value business tax incentives as tools needed to compete with other states. There is, however, no conclusive evidence from research studies conducted since the mid-1950s to show that business tax incentives have an impact on net economic gains . . . above and beyond the level that would have been attained absent the incentives." (bold supplied). 

What prompted the 2103 report was a concern that the number and costs of the tax credits offered by New York State were escalating and the need for reform was apparent especially in light of several highly questionable uses of, for example, brownfield cleanup credits in conjunction with the development of luxury housing in New York City and Westchester County, such as the Ritz Carlton in White Plains.

However, and in line with the observations on tax policy made in the Introduction by Messrs. Bernstein and Glixon, the report's proposed reforms were directed at the credits themselves, not the underlying activity they were seeking to address. The question for the legislature (and in fact the taxpayers) is whether these goals the credits sought to address are best implemented through the tax code by the use of business tax credits including tax credits for cleaning up brownfields. Of course, as the Executive Summary indicated, despite a half century of experience, there was no conclusive evidence that tax credits were either economically sound or good public policy. In other words, it seemed that the tax credits, by and large, ended up subsidizing select forms of business activity that would have occurred regardless of the tax credits.

The Jefferson at Saw Mill and the BCL

The first time the public heard of The Jefferson at Saw Mill and its connection with New York’s Brownfield Cleanup Program was found in a Public Notice published in the Journal News (reproduced below). Did you see it?  While it appears this notice complies with BCL regulations, the posting of a public notice in a newspaper that doesn't focus on Greenburgh (such as either the Rivertowns Enterprise or the Scarsdale Inquirer) about the proposed clean up of a hazardous waste site will undoubtedly give rise to head shaking.  

Not surprisingly, the DEC’s Project Remediation Bureau did not receive any comments to The Jefferson’s application to enter the Brownfield Cleanup Program.  Perhaps the Bureau might have been advised of JPI/TDI’s consent decree with the United States Justice Department regarding their violations of the federal fair housing law and the payment of a record fine in that case.   But we cannot fault the developer if they followed the law as it exists. 

Here, JPI/TDI is no different from any other property developer including presidential candidate Donald Trump, who, at the outset of the Republican presidential primary debate process, when asked about the serial filing for protection under the federal Bankruptcy laws by his companies, unapologetically declared "Four times I've taken advantage of the laws, and frankly so has everyone else in my position."